Jose Mourinho's title challengers should get a decent examination of their Premier League chances away to Stoke on Saturday night, says Ben McAleer...
"Lukaku netted the first goal in United's 4-0 win over West Ham earlier in the campaign and was first on the scoresheet that last time he netted in the Premier League against the Potters. An average of 4.7 shots per game - second only to Harry Kane (8) - this season suggests real confidence in his pursuit of goal."
Stoke vs Manchester United
Saturday September 9, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 1
United perfect so far
Three games played, three wins, 10 goals scored and zero conceded. Manchester United have soared to the summit of the Premier League and will aim to continue their perfect start to the season at Stoke in Saturday's late kick off. Jose Mourinho's side have been rampant in the opening exchanges of the campaign, but it's their trip to the Bet365 Stadium that could present their first major obstacle.
Games against West Ham, Swansea and Leicester City were easily navigable, but a trip to Stoke is never easy, regardless of their good form. The Potters picked up a 1-0 home win over Arsenal last month and are unbeaten in their last four home meetings with United, winning two. That would have been three wins from four had a late Juan Mata goal not rescued a point for the Red Devils last time out. A solid 1-1 draw at West Brom prior to the international break provides a solid foundation to build upon, even if the welcome of United is a considerable threat for the Potters.
The Mourinho factor will also play a part in the match up, with the Portuguese boss failing to win any of the last four competitive matches he has overseen against Stoke, drawing three and losing one. Mark Hughes is unbeaten in his last three meetings with Mourinho and is looking to become just the second manager to go four or more matches without defeat against the charismatic 54-year-old, who has lost his fourth match of the league season in four of his last five managerial campaigns.
Middling form a concern for Hughes
Traditionally strong at home, though, Stoke have lost three of their last six league matches at the Bet365 Stadium and have just won two of those six, and United will hope to exploit their recent underwhelming home form. Mourinho's side have lost only two of their last 32 Premier League matches, so it's no surprise that United to not lose is available at [1.1].
History points to low goals total
Meetings between these two at the Bet365 Stadium of late have also been low-scoring affairs, with three of the last four league encounters seeing under 2.5 goals. United may have brushed aside West Ham and Swansea with ease, but Stoke are notoriously difficult to break down. With Jack Butland back to full fitness and operating behind a defence containing Ryan Shawcross, Kurt Zouma and the recently acquired Kevin Wimmer, this one could be a low scoring affair. The Betfair Exchange market is split down the middle, with both options available to back at close to evens.
On top of that, three of the last five league outings, and two of the last three at the Bet365 Stadium, between these two have ended 1-1 and if you're feeling adventurous, a 1-1 draw in Saturday's late kick off is available at [9.2].
Rampant Romelu to keep hot streak going
Focusing on the main man, it's difficult to look beyond Romelu Lukaku, who has scored three goals in three Premier League outings for United following his big money arrival. Had it not been for a superb Kasper Schmeichel penalty stop in Leicester's 2-0 loss at Old Trafford, that return would look all the better, but the 24-year-old's impact is not to be scoffed at in the wake of his move to United. He's scored three in his last four league meetings against Stoke, and 16 in his last 18 Premier League appearances.
Betfair's Sportsbook makes the Belgian 10/11 to score anytime, but you can back him to be the first to hit the back of the net at 11/4. Lukaku netted the first goal in United's 4-0 win over West Ham earlier in the campaign and was first on the scoresheet that last time he netted in the Premier League against the Potters. An average of 4.7 shots per game - second only to Harry Kane (8) - this season suggests real confidence in his pursuit of goal.
Neil Swarbrick is the man in the middle, and to some he is considered a lucky referee for Stoke. He's officiated 12 Potters matches in the Premier League, with Stoke losing only four of those 12 games, while of the eight times he's officiated a United match, they've won only three, including recent back-to-back 1-1 draws in England's top tier.